Clara Shortridge Foltz:
America's First Practicing Woman Lawyer
The Lady Lawyer, Sharon Avey's work of creative
non-fiction, is the story of this incredible woman’s life. This vibrant
Clara Foltz was considered prominent throughout her lifetime, yet she is virtually forgotten today. Foltz described herself thusly, "They call me a Lady Lawyer, a pretty sobriquet, for of course to be worthy of so dainty a title, I was bound to maintain a dainty manner, as I browbeat my way through the marshes of ignorance and prejudice."
Clara's legal career
began when she changed the California legal code by replacing "white male" with "person," thus allowing her to become America's first practicing woman lawyer. This was only the beginning. Clara was not satisfied with simply becoming a hometown attorney; she was also destined to become a leader in the woman’s voting rights movement. So, for many years Clara made news for the movement and to initiate a more liberal legal code.
During a career that spanned 56 years, from 1878 until 1934, Clara almost single-handedly pushed through a great deal of progressive legislation for women’s rights and in the legal field. The concept of the
public defenders office
that we take for granted today was hers. In 1910 she was appointed to the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, becoming the
first woman deputy district attorney in the
United States. She was active in the woman's Suffrage Movement, becoming one of the only original suffragettes in the country to vote in an election.
No shrinking Victorian violet, Clara managed to accomplish much in the political arena while raising her five children, mostly as a single mother. In later years she would have regrets about not spending more time with her children, but she always tried to maintain a balance between work and her family life.
The Lady Lawyer saved mass quantities of newspaper clippings and other ephemera about her life, and hoped that one day an industrious biographer would take her collection and write about her struggles and triumphs. Unfortunately, all her mementos were thrown away after her death. Taking up this challenge,
Sharon Avey decided to prowl libraries and museums all over California to Oregon to learn what she could about the dynamic woman attorney. For several years Sharon retrieved hundreds of news items, feature stories, and other accounts of the woman’s life. One such account is "Struggles and Triumphs" an autobiographical column from
Clara Foltz's publication, "The New American Woman;" and her newspaper
The San Diego Bee.
Sharon has included some of these headlines, photos and clippings, along with reports of major historical events in her book about Clara Foltz
(The Lady Lawyer). The reportage of the time creates a picture of Clara and the world she lived in. Events mentioned in the book that relate to Clara are the Columbian Exposition of 1893, the San Francisco earthquake, the bombing of the
Los Angeles Times building, and the evolution of the women's suffrage movement in California.
accomplishments expanded in the book are:
First Woman Lawyer in California
First Woman to be admitted to Hastings Law School.
First Woman Clerk for the State Judiciary Committee.
First Woman appointed to the State Board of Normal Schools.
First Woman appointed to the State Board of Corrections.
First Woman appointed to the State Board of Charities.
First Woman Deputy District Attorney in the U.S.
First Woman Licensed Notary Public.
First Woman named director of a major bank.
First Woman to run for Governor of California.
Lady Lawyer was licensed to practice law in both California and New York,
as well as in federal courts.
A Model for Public Defenders offices throughout the U. S.
The Lady Lawyer Bill in California
Women's Vote Amendment for California in 1911.
The California Parole System.